How you open your speech makes all the difference between getting the results you want and walking away disappointed (and your audience left unaffected). A speech opening should do two things: capture their attention and make them hungry for more. More often than not, though, speakers start off with some variation of the following:
“I’m so excited to be here with you today. Thank you, Mary and John, for having me…”
“Fellow members and guests, thank you for the opportunity…”
“I’m so excited to be in the presence of such amazing people dedicated to…”
UGH! So normal, weak and boring! Nobody cares about niceties. People want to be moved, affected, changed, inspired and lead. Audiences are desperate to feel stimulated and alive, so be willing to be different, daring and bold to break the status quo and make them want more of you, especially if you are selling from the stage! Whether they say so or not, they want to be moved to action that changes their life or business. Your opening sets the tone for that to happen.
There are essentially five types of speech openings that are effective and that accomplish the goal of capturing and keeping your audience’s attention.
1. Go straight into a story from your very first word.
Stories conjure emotions and emotions reel people in. They’ll perk up and think, “This is something different. I’d better pay attention.”
2. Ask a powerful question.
It’s a way of including them in the conversation, engages them to think and participate, and makes them eager to hear where you are going with it.
3. Make a bold or startling statement.
It’ll have the same effect as a flashing red light. They’ll have to stop, look and listen.
4. Scan the room.
Say nothing at all, taking a few moments to connect with your presence and eye contact. It takes a lot of courage but it makes a powerful impact.
5. Do an activity.
This one is a bit tricky since you haven’t warmed them up to you yet, but if your brief activity makes a solid point and moves the room forward, it can be an effective way to start.
For those new to speaking or breaking the status quo for the first time, I suggest type 2, 3 and 4 openings because they are more straightforward and easier to implement. The others take a bit more practice and preparation.
Practice these three and before you know it, you’ll be able to combine them for even better results.